Requiem For A Dog

Dear Friends,

Today is the anniversary of our beloved Stella’s passing.  I wrote this shortly after she died.  I have shared it with people who have lost pets and other loved ones.  People seem to find it comforting.  Please feel free to pass it along. 

Today, my grief has mostly morphed to gratitude – but I offer this as a tribute and a touchstone for anyone who is struggling with the realities of mortality in our immortal existence.


“It’s time,” I tell Hugh.”

He rises from the computer and strides to my office, where she lies on the blue carpet.   She greets him, delighted to see him.  She doesn’t get up, but is bright-eyed alert.  She thumps her tail and gives her biggest grin.

Hugh says, “Are you sure?”

I shake my head and shudder because just now, I almost killed our dog.

At night she weakens.

I know and Hugh agrees.  Tomorrow is the day.  Tomorrow is the day I will carry my sweet gift of a girl to the car and drive her to the vet for the last time.   Hugh asks if I will come to bed and I say, “No, I will spend this last night glued to Stella.”

She won’t eat.  She can’t hold down water.  She can barely walk.  But somehow she manages to haul herself up on the couch, leaving just enough room for me to spoon behind her like I always do.  I climb in and drape my arm over her chest to clutch her heartbeat.   I burrow under a blanket and watch bad television.  I wait for sleep and dread morning.

A shudder awakens me.   I feel her body tremble.  She exhales slowly and her heart stops.

“What is this?”…  Not yet.

She inhales deeply.  Then her heart flutters, fibrillates like a tiny bird.  She exhales and it is over.  Her heart stops in my hand.

I wait.

There is endless silence where my dog used to be.

My Grey’s Anatomy kicks in and I say, “Time of death, 2:27.”

It is over.

What will I do without my North Star?

I can’t remember the exact moment I became completely canine-centric.   It was a slow avalanche of excessive love.  There was training – show, agility and obedience, brightened by her skill and her stubbornness.  There were hand-made dog costumes, first a hot pink poodle skirt, then the Native American Couture.

I stood in the dairy aisle at Vons, memorizing the Land-O-Lakes Butter Woman, so I could Indian princessesrecreate the look and impose it on the dogs.   That day, there were many serious grown-up things to do, things like writing sermons and comforting the sick.  Instead, I sewed Indian fringe on Naugahyde and braided black yarn wigs that the dogs would shred in forty-five seconds.

I made career decisions to suit Stella.   I left a lucrative career in medical customer service to enter full-time ministry because leading a church would allow more dog time.  This embarrassed me, as I wondered if Martin Luther King or Norman Vincent Peale chose ministries to please their dogs.   I knew it was odd, but I also trusted that God catches us, using pure, ridiculous love for bait.

When my church felt awful in the early years, I stayed because of Stella.   So when our church began to evolve through shared persistence and goodwill, changing lives and becoming something grateful, real, rowdy, and divine, that was because of Stella too.

Then the life shaped by a bossy dog who trained everyone to do her bidding.   She demanded endless tennis ball fetches.   Daily, she warned the neighborhood of the savage mailman, sent to pillage her toys.   She schemed to sneak her fifty pound, muscular frame onto my lap and place her head on my shoulder.

She insisted on me.

She reveled in my silliness and my sadness.   She was my best listener, my most forgiving friend.   My messy hair, mascara streaks, disheveled, sagging clothes, my frown-lines, my endless complaining – none of it mattered.  She cherished me completely.

What will I do without that love?

I will look for her everywhere and come up missing.

I will sing my daily soundtrack of silly dog songs and realize the songs no longer apply.

I will sing them in a minor key.

I will refuse to listen to Puccini.

I will not eat an almond because Stella is not there to point and drool.

I will build a shrine of worn designer collars, lit by Mexican Jesus and Mary candles.

I will pretend Bartie is Stella, so I can feel her again, and then hate myself when this feeble, degrading attempt doesn’t work.

I will facilitate the Animal Blessing service, collapse by the “In Loving Memory” sign, and frighten the volunteers as I place my hands over my eyes for thirty minutes of unstoppable tears.

I will stagger through infinite “firsts without Stella:” the first hike up Sisar Canyon, the first dinner party, the first beach trip, the first cheese, the first everything because she was everything to me.

I will sigh and ponder the Rainbow Bridge; that tear inducing poem about pets in heaven waiting to be reunited with their earth-bound companions.  Maybe she’s playing in heaven with the other dead dogs, kicking the crap out of them.   Maybe she’ll be there, poised and waiting for me when I pass over, maybe she’ll greet me and we’ll cross the Rainbow Bridge together.   When I die, if there’s no Rainbow Bridge, if she’s not there, I’ll hunt down the liar who wrote that poem and slap him….

Above all, I will cling to a day in May, one month before the onset of Stella’s terrible, fast, un-diagnosable illness, back when things were whole.

Stella and Bartie, with Mali the Cat, proudly worked as a team to bring a live hummingbird into the house.

Through some miracle of grace, guidance and animal control, I caught the bird in my hands.

I held it, captivated by rapid wings beating against my palms.   I felt its holy longing to be free.   I brought the hummingbird outside by the hibiscus and opened my hands.

I watched it soar upwards like a prayer.

Now I wonder, “Was that a sign?”

Because I remember Stella’s fluttering last heartbeat and how it felt like the hummingbird.

Stella’s heart, held captive by a frail body that could no longer contain the largeness of her love; her heart that strained against captivity and transformed yearning into spaciousness; her heartbeat that flew so swiftly away, into wild grace.

I will look for her in hummingbirds and see each one as a message that she is not gone, but free.  And on the days when that doesn’t bring comfort,  I will wait it out,  I will trust the passage of time.   I will go to sleep and pray to dream of Stella, beside me, home, where she belongs.


To view The Stella Movie, Click Here.

19 thoughts on “Requiem For A Dog

  1. Christine Voth

    Beautiful love filled words and video. Thank you for sharing this love, your words, the video; and for showing how, over time, grief can lessen and gratitude emerges.

    1. bystarlight123 Post author

      Dear Christine, I know the same truths for you and your loved ones as you have navigated this past year. Sending lots of love – Bonnie

  2. Lida

    Oh Bonnie…Holding your heart in great tenderness and grace today and each day. We all cry big puppy and dog tears remembering beloved Stella as she continues to weave her magic of love. Watching the video opened my heart even more to the beauty that Stella is and how she touches each of us so deeply through you and your words about her. Stella shows up in your Sunday messages, in playful dog songs, in classes you teach. She is so very present! In Brazil recently there was a dog running around in the garden at the Casa – she looked just like Stella!

    Thank you for sharing the power of love and Stella – the star that always shines in our hearts.

    Love, Lida

    1. bystarlight123 Post author

      yes yes thank you Lida – she is a presence itself. Thank you for walking the journey in India with me through all of the uncertainty and wondering if I would get back in time. Love to you – Bonnie

  3. Susan Hamilton

    Thank you for this. We lost our beautiful Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever a month ago. Like you, I spent his last hours spooned around him with my arm across his chest and my hand pressed against his heart. We stagger through all the “firsts” without him and make elaborate plans to fool ourselves into not noticing when it’s walk time, play time, feeding time, bed time. This doesn’t work very well.
    Charlie was our family. We bought this property for him and an SUV with a roomy hatchback. I’d never think twice about turning down work if it meant being away from him for longer than 5 days.
    He lived life at full tilt. He could learn anything in 30 seconds except to stop licking the kitchen floor. He was greedy, and stubborn, and frequently silly. He loved making us laugh.
    We often lose things we can’t live without, and through a divine and almost blinding grace, we find ourselves living without them. Charlie taught me almost everything I know — about love and imperfection, and about hurling yourself into the water no matter how cold it is. Now he is teaching me about letting go.
    If he had survived, hiis life would have been diminished. That would have broken his heart as well as mine. He saved us both from that. I have no doubt that he will be waiting when I reach The Rainbow Bridge because he always took care of us. But just in case he’s not and I get there before you do, I will hunt down the person who wrote that blasted poem and slap him for you.

    1. bystarlight123 Post author

      Thank you for making me laugh and cry. Much empathy to you for your beloved Charlie. He sounds like an amazing being. LOL on “he could learn anything except to stop licking the kitchen floor.” Dogs are amazing with their personalities, quirkiness, and wholehearted love. Thanks again for your beautiful words and for loving your dog so much – Bonnie

  4. Alan Wingard

    Your searing, heartfelt account wrung me to copious tears again. And yet again. Recalling serial grief on losing one by one our pack. Dougal, Peppermint Patty. Standard poodles Thalia, Ben, Mary Margaret and ,Gabrielle (Gabi). Thank you for being midwife to my grief and love.

    1. bystarlight123 Post author

      Dear Alan, I send you much compassion. It was good of you to list the names of your pack. I feel your deep and complete love for them. I know gave them a good life and that makes me smile. Thank you for joining with me on this glorious, beautiful, painful, dear journey. Warmly, Bonnie

    2. bystarlight123 Post author

      Dear Alan, I send you much compassion. I loved reading the list of names of your pack. Your complete love for them jumped right off the screen. I know you gave them a good live. I join with you in the joy and sorrow of our life with animal companions. Thank you for reminding me that it’s all love. – Bonnie

  5. Nancy Cathey

    Rev Bon,
    When I knew what this was going to be about, I put it on hold for awhile, not willing to suffer the pain that I would be sure to go through with you, my friend.
    But, yesterday, thunder scared our dog out the doggy door, through or under the wooden fence in the yard, two miles of terrified running, tearing black pads off paws and jumping into the intracoastal waterway and swimming aimlessly until a couple in a boat with their dog managed to get to Bennie, our terrior who is afraid of water, get him aboard and call our number on his tag.
    When we got to the Pub, the nearest docking place, the bar owner had doctored and bandaged his paws and the lady in the boat had him wrapped in a towel and was comforting him.
    We called extended family members and cancelled a family reunion scheduled for today that we were hosting so that we can be with and attend to Ben.
    I know Stella Reins in the Queendom of love that overcomes all violence, hate, nonsense and doubt. God comes to us in many different ways and forms.
    I am so grateful God spent quality time with you in such a one on one way through Stella so that you can explain it all to us in a way we can all understand.

    1. bystarlight123 Post author

      Dear Nancy,
      Thank you for your kind words and your thoughts about beautiful Stella. I am so glad to hear that everything is okay with your pup after his trauma!! Take care and much love – Bonnie

  6. Debbie Snow

    ACK!! You absolutely ripped my heart on it and stomped on it with this one.
    What a beautiful tribute to your Stella. I could relate so much to it. I’ve loved and lost dogs (family members) before and trying to prepare myself for old Coonie, 15 year old shepherd mix who likely won’t be here long.

    Our critters must be in the next life! Wouldn’t be heaven without them. Thank you for this. Debbie

    1. bystarlight123 Post author

      Dear Debbie – thank you for your kind words and the encouragement regarding heaven. I so agree!! All the best and sweet wishes for you and Connie. Warmly, Bonnie

  7. Sandra Crawford-Goodman

    Dearest Bonnie,
    Your vulnerability, love and courage are showing me more ways to become more intimate with my loving dog Lu-Lu, Lucinda, Lucy, Lucifer…( name depends on her moods).
    Thank you for showing me the way to be open-minded, open-hearted and loving with all living beings.
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful Stella.
    Best wishes,

    1. bystarlight123 Post author

      thank you Sandra – for your kind words and for making me smile with your dog nicknames. 🙂 Warmly, Bonnie


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